Saturday, September 1, 2012
Don't Go In The House (1979)
Here's an interesting psycho-drama that eluded me for many years, probably mostly because it has one of those "Don't" in the title and that never bodes well quality-wise. Joseph Ellison's film, Don't Go In The House, is more or less yet another take on Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, but it shares several very similar ideas (and even scenes) with 1980's classic Maniac - if that's a sign of William Lustig ripping off this movie or just coincidence or not, I have no idea, but these productions would make a fine triple feature a dark and stormy night.
Donny lives with his old mother in a big spooky house. One day he finds his controlling mother dead, by natural causes. He continues to hear her voice and we learn that she's been torturing him with fire physically and breaking him down mentally since childhood! Now when she's gone his repressed state stops and he starts killing women the hot way, with a flame thrower...
What strikes me the most is that the visual style is quite far away from the typical cheapo 70's thriller, it looks very good and very professional, but never shies away from the violence and the that grittiness we love so much from this decade. It's very clear that Ellison has a vision and wants to make an ambitious take on the old story about a fucked-up man and his dead mother. Dan Grimaldi, as Donny, comes off as stiff and flat, and I first thought this was because of bad acting - but after I while I could see that its actually a very fine peace of performance, not that far from what Anthony Perkins did in Psycho: a man without a personality, controlled by his cruel mother. No wonder why he's flat, boring, bland - his mother never allowed him to be nothing but her slave.
But a nasty underrated classic like this wouldn't be anything without the horror (or at least a good drama about a weird guy walking around in a rundown house talking to his rotting mother) and Don't Go In The House delivers quite good there. Not that it's particularly gory or something like that. The killings is our dear Donny burning people alive, but those scenes and the set up is chilling and disturbing and the effects is very well-made. The film also has two-three very eerie hallucinations (from Donny), one of them very reminiscent of William Lustig's Maniac, that helps boost the horror quota.
What makes this film even more interesting is the inclusion of what could be an example of real friendship, a rare thing in a genre that depends of people behaving like bastards towards each other. I'm talking about Donny's co-worker. I can't remember his name now - or the actor - but he seems genuinely interested in caring and helping the slightly anti-social Donny, from just trying to keep him company to defending him when the boss starts one of his rants. It's a sign of a mature screenwriter, or at least someone who understands that there's some love even in a very destructive and depressive life as Donny's. I also like the priest - for once - who has his belief in god, but also claims that the devil just is a symbol of evil, he doesn't exist. A radical thing to say even today among religious people, and it gives that character a lot more IQ and EQ than more or less every priest I've seen in a horror movie.
Don't Go In The House is a smart and emotional strong gritty horror-thriller that easily would be on the same level as Psycho and Maniac if it was more known and widely distributed. I recommend totally!